On the heels of the NACD Directorship 2020™panel, Virginia Gambale, director, JetBlue and managing partner, Azimuth Partners LLC; Helene D. Gayle, president and CEO, CARE USA; director, The Coca-Cola Co. and Colgate-Palmolive Co.; Michael D. Rochelle, founder and president, MDR Strategies LLC, director, Military Officers Association of America, trustee, U.S. Army War College Foundation; and Clara Shih, CEO, Hearsay Social and director, Starbucks, discussed the perspectives, expertise, and skill sets that will be critical for boardrooms of the future.
Gambale noted that some of the issues that will confront boards in 2020 are obvious today. Globalization, technology and innovation, the drive for transparency coupled with short-termism, and a focus on shareholder returns will require a certain expertise at the board level. To meet these challenges, Gambale suggested one valuable mindset is contextual awareness—the ability to lead and make decisions in the context of what is going on in the environment around you with the information you have.
“Another way of thinking about contextual awareness is as the intersection of situational awareness and the ability to use intuition to take advantage of opportunities,” said Rochelle. “It’s a 360-degree awareness.”
“Part of situational awareness is to ensure that in a globalized world you have the ability to speak each other’s language and talk across the divide,” explained Gayle. “We can be brokers for merging creating wealth with creating social value.”
Reinventing the Future
While some technologies, such as social media and mobile, enhance existing business models, some companies are developing technologies that will completely alter the future. Shih pointed to the examples of 3-D printing and self-driving cars, noting that embracing embrace rapid innovation can redefine the customer experience.
Directors and management will need to prepare to keep pace with evolving technology. “The bylaws in corporate governance were meant to maintain stability. We need to be aware that in that environment we need to try harder to carve out time to brainstorm about how businesses can be transformed by these technologies.”
Onboarding Future Directors
“Ensuring a board is prepared to embrace emerging technologies starts with an effective onboarding process. Boards must do a better job of thinking about diversity as more than numbers,” Gayle explained. “How do we make sure what that person has to offer is brought to light? In onboarding, we need a focus on dialogue—having a discussion about what that member brings to the table.”
In addition, considering younger directors may also prove fruitful, she continued: “We have deliberately looked for younger candidates on my board—they understand some of these worlds better.”
Jet Blue Director Virginia Gambale heard the news about the airline’s fed-up flight attendant—the one who exited the plane via the emergency slide, cursing passengers as he touched down on the tarmac—well before some of the company’s senior executives. Social media savvy Virginia uses a web tool to track all mention of companies on whose boards she sits, and as soon as someone tweeted news of the incident, she was on it.
Virginia, a former CIO with Merrill Lynch and Bankers Trust, shared the story at NACD’s Director Professionalism®—The Master Class, held this week in Clearwater, FL. She was one of a number of dedicated NACD members honing her board leadership skills and using peer expertise to identify and explore innovative solutions to persistent and emerging challenges.
Virginia urged her peers with non-IT backgrounds to become more involved in oversight of the company’s technology strategy. “Ask questions,” she said. “If people tell you that deadlines are being missed, that delivery of services isn’t possible, or that it’s just too complicated to get something done, then you don’t have the right strategy and you may need to change your CIO. Ask the CIO to talk about allocation of resources and find out how the dollars are spent between maintenance and innovation. You can make the same judgments as you would on any other area of the business.”
“Ask ‘What is our model for technology leadership?’” advises Virginia, and ask to be walked through the governance model and strategy for partners and communications with customers. “Read the company culture: Is IT a partner or service provider? How closely integrated is it with your lines of business? What, why and where are you outsourcing, and what effect is that having on your risk? Virtual roads and highways need to be maintained, but you can outsource a lot of this and pay only for what you use,” she said.
Virginia urges boards to make sure they have at least one person charged with asking these and other questions. “It can be helpful to have a technology and operations
sub-committee sitting under audit or risk,” she recommends, especially if the company needs to find a new CIO. Failing this, the board should consider hiring an outside consultant.
“Security breaches, brand tarnish, information leaks or, at worst, a death can do your company real harm,” said the director who joined the Jet Blue board around the time of the Valentine’s Day “Ice Incident.” And, she added, “You can’t risk disintermediation—the business boneyard is filled with companies where the strategists at board and C-suite level failed to ask the right questions and fooled themselves for too long.”
“Today, every man, woman and child has access to instant information,” she reminded the group. “Use social media intelligently—it can supply you with useful information about what your customers think. And remember, if a mind created it, a mind can break it. Be mindful of the need for ongoing vigilance and sound practice in information security.”
Other directors sharing their expertise with peers attending NACD’s Master Class included Office Depot Compensation Rear Admiral (Retired) Chairman Marty Evans, Winn Dixie Director Charlie Garcia, who discussed the implications of America’s growing Hispanic population for board composition, and Major General (Retired) Hawthorne “Peet” Proctor, who spoke about the characteristics of exemplary board leadership.
To learn more about NACD’s Director Professionalism-The Master Class in 2011, click here. Already attended the Master Class? Contact fellowships@NACDonline.org to find out how you can become a 2011 NACD Board Leadership Fellow.